a thoughtful discussion about music


Ani Difranco

I am going to start this investigation into political music with someone who I am very familiar with and who's lyrics and songs have greatly influenced myself and my view on the world.

Ani Difranco has written thousands of songs, as well as poems, with compelling lyrics that inspire and capture her listeners and eloquently express issues and events in the world around us. She has released over 20 albums, created her own lable, Righteous Babe Records, and has the reputation of being a monumental feminist icon.

One of her most politically charged, long winded and epic songs is "Serpentine" off of the album Evolve. This is a song that has brought tears to my eyes and my heart to wrench. Yes, it is dark ("and I must admit, today my inner pessimist seems to have got the best of me..."), but I feel that the observations and critique of American culture that is expressed through it are valid and worthy of a good listening and emotional response.


This song begins with a 2 minute long guitar interlude. Ani's style of playing guitar is not like most traditional methods. She utilizes a staccato style, which signify a detachment between notes by pauses or periods of silence. She also uses unusual and rapid fingerpicking as well as alternative tunings on her guitar. In this instrumental part, proceeding her singing, she uses these stylistic characteristics to, in a way, prepare the listener for what is to come.

The minimalist guitar part, unaccompanied by any other instruments or sounds, helps place a stronger emphasis on the lyrics of the song and creates a tension and emotional instability that helps to drive the point that those lyrics are trying to make.


The lyrics of this song are really the most beautiful part. Even when read as poetry, the message comes across and in nearly an equally as elegant way. Phrases such as, "the profit system follows the path of least resistance, and the path of least resistance is what makes the river crooked, makes it serpentine" re-writes ideas, such as the prevalence of critique and active participants in American society, in poetic and compelling ways.

pavlov hits me with more bad news
every time i answer the phone
so i play and i sing and i just let it ring
all day when i'm at home
a defacto choice of macro
or microcosmic melancholy
but, baby, any way you slice it
i'm thinkin i could just as soon use
the time alone

yes, the goons have gone global
and the CEOs are shredding files
and the democrans and the republicrats
are flashing their toothy smiles
and uncle tom is posing for a photo op
with the oval office clan
and uncle sam is rigging cockfights
in the promised land
and that knife you stuck in my back is still there
it pinches a little when i sigh and moan
and these days i'm thinkin i could just as soon use
the time alone

cuz all the wrong people have the power
of suggestion

and the freedom of the press is meaningless
if nobody asks a question

I mean causation by definition
is such a complex compilation

of factors that to even try to say why
is to over simplify, but that's a far cry.
Isn't it dear?

from acting like you're the only one there
unrepentantly self centered and unfair
enter all suckers scrambling for the scoop
exit mr. eye contact
who took his flirt and flew the coop
but whatever
no matter
no fishin trips
no fishin
cuz mamma's officially out of commission
and did i mention
in there
did i mention
in there
that i traded babe ruth?
yes, i traded the only player that was bigger than the game
and i can't even tell you why
cuz you'd think i'm insane
and that's the truth

and the music industry mafia is pimping girl power
sniping off their sharp shooter singles from their styrofoam towers
and hip hop is tied up in the back room
with a logo stuffed in its mouth
cuz the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house
but then
i'm getting away from myself

as i get closer and closer to home
and the difference between you and me baby
is i get fucked up
when i'm alone

and i must admit
today my inner pessimist
seems to have got the best of me
we start out sugared up on kool-aid and manifest destiny
and we memorize all the president's names
like little trained monkeys
and then we're spit into the world
so many spinny-eyed t.v. junkies
incapable of unravelling the military industrial mystery
preemptively pacified with history book history
and i've been around the world now
and i can see this about america
the mind control is steep here, man
the myopia is deep here

and behold
those that try to expose the reality
who really try to realize democracy
are shot with rubber bullets and gassed off the streets
while the global power brokers are kept clean and discrete
behind a wall
behind a moat
and that is all
that's all she wrote


By turning these critiques of society into songs they become things that can penetrate on a more emotional level and stay with a person for longer. Songs and lyrics are things that get stuck in our heads. Musicians and poets use words not only to convey messages. They also organize them in ways that can carry those messages to a broader audience and through time.

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